Wednesday, December 31, 2003

I remember the story on the first anniversary of 9/11 about one of the two daily New York state lottery Pick 3 games coming up 9-1-1 on 9/11/02. Read about it at snopes.com.
Through AllWinners.com I found that New York state held a pick 3 lottery on Sept. 11, 2001. The winning numbers were 0, 3 and 8. When did they have the drawing? I don't remember watching or reading about anything other than news about the attacks for weeks!
How long was the Powerball lottery game suspended after Sept. 11? Answer: it wasn't. The winning numbers for Sept. 12, 2001 were 13, 25, 35, 39, 47 and the Powerball was 1.
Or: "Osama Fin Laden." The Reason blog noted this incredible tale about the TSA vs. a Beta fish.
That Nick Broomfield kook will probably have a field day with this:

"Tests to determine whether Elliott Smith was murdered or committed suicide were inconclusive, a Los Angeles coroner's spokesman said yesterday (Dec. 30). . . . Initial reports indicated the reclusive Smith had stabbed himself, said coroner's spokesman David Campbell. But an investigation into his death and an examination of his body were unable to determine if the wound was self-inflicted or if Smith was the victim of an attack."
Debkafile is reporting an Al Qaeda threat (first reported in Italy's Il Giornale newspaper) to "destroy New York in a nuclear blast" on February 2.

But why February 2? What is February 2? Why of course! It's Groundhog Day!

These guys . . . again . . . bring it on, bitches.

There's also the chance that Al Qaeda is celebrating World Wetlands Day, which marks the date of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands on February 2, 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar, as the Ramsar Convention Secretariat notes.

UPDATE: Here's an Italian media link, if you can read Italian . . .
Nathan Poole, the Cardinals receiver whose last-second touchdown catch on Sunday sent the Green Bay Packers to the playoffs and cost the team the first pick in next year's draft, will be attending Sunday's playoff showdown between the Packers and the Seahawks as a guest of Green Bay's mayor. He also will be given a tour of Lambeau Field and the key to the city.

Poole, who is "delighted" to attend the game told ESPNews that he would love to talk to Brett Favre and that he's been a fan of his "almost my whole life." (Poole turns 27 in February, but no matter.)
No, we didn't win it, but we did start reading the first Gossip Girl book last night. From the book blurb: "Welcome to New York City's Upper East Side, where my friends and I live, go to school, play, sleep --sometimes with each other . . ."

The book centers on the return of S., who has a really obnoxious Dutch last name I can't remember: "If we aren't careful, S is going to win over our teachers, wear the dresses we couldn't fit into, and eat the last olive, spill Campari on our rugs, steal our brothers' and our boyfriends' hearts, and basically ruin our lives in a major way. . . . It's going to be one wild and wicked year. I can smell it."

Gossip Girl, for those who don't know, is written by Cecily von Ziegesar, and has shocked -- shocked! -- the country with its dirty, bitchy stories about Upper East Side teenagers written for early teens.

We'll post a Gossip Girl quote of the day in upcoming days.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Ah! I meant to write about this before and I just saw a link to this great skit that was on Saturday Night Live the other day.

Two things: One, Darrell Hammond totally gets it . . . there's some real smart satire there. Two, the skit tapped into something I've begun thinking as all the 2004 hubbub hits a head: being preoccupied with political stuff is just tiring. And often stupid. And often senseless. (I could go on here.)

The skit is a mock commercial for Howard Dean in which Al Gore, seated next to Dean, is extolling the candidate's virtues in an over-the-top way: "As I'm sure you're all aware.. we are, to-day, a na-tion.. in cri-sis.. poised on the edge.. of ca-tas-tro-phe.. and without a change in leadership.. we are quite literally.. doomed. It is essential.. that we have a new.. president.. in 2004." Eventually Dean perks up and tries to say that he doesn't actually subscribe to the hyperbole Gore keeps thoughtlessly churning out.

"George W. Bush is not only.. the worst president in american history.. he is the worst leader of any nation on Earth.. going back more than 500 years!"

The funny thing is that it's so close to what these guys are actually saying.

It was a well-done skit; too bad it came so late (after 12:30, as I recall -- we were just about to turn off the TV, in fact).
Spot on: "As long as there remains that hot iridescent strain of pissy anti-Western self-hatred, there’ll be a warm spot in the historians’ hearts for those who insisted that the Afghan campaign was really about killing brown-skinned folks to build a pipeline."

You know, the first Lileks post I ever read was this from August 2002 (scroll down to Friday): "McVeigh blew up a fucking daycare center, Anne; that ought to be your main regret, not that he failed to drive a shard of glass through Maureen Dowd’s eyesocket." One of the most talented writers on the internet -- day after day, too.
The big LA Times story everyone's talking about today is the real spuzz (free subscription required, but it's worth it). And no, there's no evidence of WMD, but that's not what this story is about.

Salient Point #1: The sanctions on Iraq were not working, which is the biggest understatement after you read the piece.

Salient Point #2: Containment was not an option in Iraq, and pretending like it was is incredibly naive.

Salient Point #3: The fact that Syria was on the UN Security Council while it acted as an intermediary for illict arms sales to Iraq only goes to show how meaningless the UN Security Council had become. Again, an understatement, but you have to wonder when people like Dean talk about their faith in international organizations.

Salient Excerpt: "'Frankly, I would have had no qualms selling this stuff to Iraq,' [Oleg] Antonov [general director of Aviakonversiya, a Russian company specializing in making GPS jammers to whom Iraqi officials made 15 visits before the war], said. 'We wouldn't have sold this to them directly. We would have done it the way everybody was doing it. We would have sold it to some third country.' Antonov added that he would be 'happy and proud' if he 'knew for sure that our equipment was used in Iraq and was a success there…. It would be the best advertisement for our production.'"

Monday, December 29, 2003

Lord knows I'm supportive of the authorities as they keep us safe from terrorists, but a BOLO alert for people carrying almanacs? Take it away, Bruno.
After reading Chuck Todd's op-ed in the Times this morning on the way to work I felt like I had a bunch of stuff to say, but after re-reading it I just want to make a couple of points.

His thesis is that the key to swing voters is "when they vote," meaning that they rarely switch sides, instead coming out of hibernation to vote when they feel the need.

He goes on to argue that the 18-to-24 set are the new swing voter: "Four years later [after 2000], the average 24-year-old has a far more serious set of concerns. Her seminal political memory is no longer Monica Lewinsky, it is 9/11. Like Pearl Harbor for an earlier generation, 9/11 is the kind of memory that re-emphasizes the need for civic duty — and it's likely that young folks are going to hear this call."

I agree, but for different reasons. Post-9/11, 2004 marks the first time since the Cold War (and 18-to-24s wouldn't have been voting before 1989) that a Presidential vote will really deal with foreign policy crises. This is significant because I don't get the sense that young people care about domestic issues vis a vis the federal government. Foreign policy and threats to national security are a different thing, however.

I don't think young people care about how the federal government deals with domestic issues because I have the sense that young people distrust institutions. I don't get the sense that they put a lot of stock in federal solutions to domestic problems (the one issue that could change this is health care, but we'll have to see whether it becomes a defining issue or stays a peripheral one). And this is especially true for voters who came of age during the 90s, when the federal government didn't need to do a lot to spur the economy.

This distrust of institutions carries over to the parties themselves -- the recent big Pew Research Center for the People and the Press survey noted that almost half of voters aged 18 to 29 are unaffiliated (or independent). When I registered to vote at 18 it was simple; I just didn't want to be labeled. I wonder how many other kids my age felt this way (apparently a lot!).

I first voted in 1992, so I'm a little beyond that 18-to-24 demographic, but my voting philosophy has been that local elections are as important, if not more important, than national ones. And I had begun to think that small federal government was good, but only if it is augmented by a more engaged state or municipal government -- I had come to believe that efficiency in this respect was a virtue.

The foreign policy crises since 9/11 have obviously changed that. This time I think the Presidency is more important than at any time since I've been voting (1992, 1996 or 2000).

In the end you might be surprised to hear that I voted twice for Clinton and once for Nader -- like I said, before 9/11 the Presidency wasn't especially important. This time, though, you'd have to really convince me that Dean would be better at foreign policy than Bush.

So I think Todd gets it part right. I'll be interested to see how the 18-to-24s vote, but also those a little older for whom foreign policy had never been a key issue following the Cold War. We'll see.
A longtime fan of Arizona sports franchises, I have followed the Cardinals since they moved to Arizona in 1988 (look for me in my vintage "Phoenix Cardinals" T-shirt!). This is a team with only two seasons at .500 or above. They have won only one playoff game during their tenure in Arizona.

Some years it gets so bad that you root for them to lose, if only for aesthetic reasons. I remember a game in the early 1990s against the Cleveland Browns, for example, in which the Cardinals were shut out. Late in the fourth quarter I was rooting for an interception in order to secure the shut out. The zero just looked better.

So it is with great dismay that I report that with their last-second win over the Vikings, the Cardinals did not, in fact, earn the worst record in the league this year (Oakland and San Diego appear to have beaten them out by whatever tie-breaker the league uses).

Mr. Bidwell, I don't think it's the coach . . .

UPDATE: Yes, I just checked . . . it was the third week of the 1994 season, and Cleveland won 32-0 (and that was in a "good" year -- when Buddy Ryan took them to 8-8!).

Friday, December 26, 2003

So I saw the film "In America" and I'm pleased to report that it's not as cloying as the trailer suggests (I almost didn't see it because those two cute little Irish girls were just too much).

The geographically impossible scenario (he can't possibly drag an air conditioner from Columbus Circle to the East Village!) works in a couple of ways -- the tenuousness of their living situation is the perfect setting for their tenuous lives and the film carries that tense feeling all the way through.

And although it's a minor point, I would like to call them out for the shameless thievery of the Langley Schools Project when the lead little girl sings "Desperado" in a school production. As an Eagles cover it was appropriately credited at the end, but there wasn't any debt paid for the idea, which was a pretty shameless ripoff (an unnecessary interlude, too, since I'm not entirely sure how the montage moved along the plot).

But overall it was pretty good, the gratuitous slaps at the American health care system and lax immigration policies notwithstanding.
Is anyone else thinking that it's a really bad sign that these Al Qaeda guys keep trying to kill Musharraf? Remember that Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud was killed two days before September 11, and in the aftermath people said that the two were related. There has been a lot going on in Pakistan in the last 11 days. Here is a good place to start if you want to freak yourself out by connecting the dots.
Jen and I went with her folks to Mass on Christmas Day at their parish near their home in Northeast Philadelphia and the priest told this amazing story about a pastor in Brooklyn who reunited, through a simple wall tapestry, a couple long lost from each other after being separated by the Nazis. Jen and I, and her folks, were enthralled by the tale.

Although the Father said that he heard it from a good friend of his and that it was the first time he was telling this amazing story publicly, it turns out that it was first written for a 1954 issue of Reader's Digest and was reprinted in a 1998 collection of Christmas stories.

That's not to say that it wasn't a great and uplifting story, of course, just that it was funny to read about it the next day on Snopes (and, as you can see, on hundreds of sites all over the internet).
We ended up hearing Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" but not The Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping." And I have to admit that when Jen and I were driving in her folks' car to her friend Steph's house we left the all-Christmas music radio station on. And I have to admit also that when it turned midnight last night and we were out driving, still listening to the station I felt some sadness when the station returned to its normal playlist. It was Elton John's "Nikita" in particular which broke the Christmas spell for us.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

The Paul McCartney "Wonderful Christmas Time" cell phone ring tone.

OK. I'm done. Safe and Happy Holiday to all . . .
I don't know exactly why I like it so much, but the Waitresses "Christmas Wrapping" is one of my favorite Christmas songs. And I feel this despite the fact that I fundamentally disagree with Chris Butler's philosophy of writing songs from a female perspective, which is a pre-feminist songwriting copout. Note also for the record that Butler was surprised that this throwaway song (his opinion) became the band's big hit instead of the pedestrian "I Know What Boys Like."

You usually hear the song at least once, in a store or on one of those all-Christmas song radio stations (kill me now!). There's still time, I guess. And for Trans-Siberian Orchestra's bombastic synthesized renditions of the traditional numbers ("NER NER-NER-NER NER NER NER NER . . .").

The song I hate hate hate hate is Wings' "Wonderful Christmas Time," which I have heard this season (on Steinway Street in Astoria, where they have big speakers out on the corners of the major intersections). At least it was only once (and at least the bad taste left was washed away with Lou Monte's "Dominick the Donkey (The Italian Christmas Donkey)" -- much better -- chingedy ching, hee-haw hee-haw . . .). Some have told me that McCartney means to be ironic, and although there is a lot of drinking that happens in the song (e.g., "Sprits up . . ."), I think this is bullshit. It's an infectious -- nay, viral -- piece of crap that lodges in your head and never leaves. (The song's only redeeming value is that you can easily alter the lyrics to make it pornographic.)

Merry Christmas all . . . no posts tomorrow.
Mob guys are getting whacked! In Rao's, no less!
Will this mean that beef prices will come down some?

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

I would like to take this opportunity to briefly renege on my pledge from last week to avoid overtly political topics (Code Orange doesn't count) to say simply that as long as Jonathan Chait keeps writing Diary of a Dean-o-Phobe, I have nothing further to add. A must read.
Bruno, tell the Professor it's not about the benevolence associations.
Since when is a 6.5 earthquake along the San Andreas Fault not front page news? It was in USA Today and the Washington Post, and I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that it was above the fold in the LA Times.

The New York Times, on the other hand, has its story on Page A18. I can think of a couple of stories on the front page that could have been bumped, including, but not limited to, the fluffy piece about Hillary gaining her voice (just wait for 2008, cheese) or the piece about a teenager in Maine who seems to have been dealt with rather harshly for torching ex-President Bush's boat (moral: just don't do it).

Are natural disasters just too banal in a post-9/11 world? Or has the northeastern establishment really written off California?
So we’re listening to Bruno and the Mad Professor last night when the topic of raising the threat level to Code Orange comes up and whether it’s warranted or much ado about nothing.

You may be thinking this is crazy, that it’s clear that the government would much rather not raise the threat level during the holiday season.

There are several reasons you might think this. It’s unlikely, for example, they would want to scare shoppers any more than they have to, especially in the midst of sluggish retail sales.

They wouldn’t want to further strain already cash-strapped municipal governments by scaring up a phantom threat.

They certainly wouldn’t want to purposely slow down trade.

There’s no way they would want people to freak out over suspicious packages and then have to turn right around and remind people to go about their daily lives.

They wouldn’t want the dollar slipping any further against the Euro -- “Oh, no!” you say, “this Administration wants to increase exports” -- but no -- not right now -- not when all this other stuff is swirling about.

And even if all these things weren’t the case, then you see what they apparently are concerned about: fully trained “legitimate” pilots flying from overseas, who, thanks to our response to Sept. 11, are now locked behind secured cockpit doors.

So with all that, the key point the Professor focused on last night was that raising the threat level to Code Orange benefited police unions, who stand to gain all that overtime pay.

Let’s recap here -- what’s behind the threat level being raised to orange? Think now -- follow the money -- concentrate -- remember who is to gain here . . . got it? That’s right, the Policemen’s Benevolent Association. Bingo! It’s the Republicans’ way to curry favor among law enforcement.

It’s then when you wonder whether Dean really is all that sloppy a candidate or whether he just wants to stir up the latent cynicism within whoever he suspects his is base.

But as with Dean, I refuse to believe that Bruno and the Mad Professor, radical moderates they are, truly believe these kinds of conspiracies. There are very few who are that profoundly cynical.

At the same though, they must appeal to somebody, and those are the people I’m worried about.
If you're looking for something for me, forget those ridiculous Ugg boots and pick me up that Tupac-Biggie Memorial I've been eyeing.
Ah, so they're alive after all . . . but they can't compete with this: a page devoted to how the old "Redbird" 7 train cars are faring in their new role as an artificial reef off the coast of New Jersey.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Scott's made some compelling arguments on behalf of the establishment of chain bars. Certainly the profit margins on beer are absurdly high. Even more absurdly high than the profit margins on gourmet coffee like Starbucks. So the industry would appear to be fairly ripe for consolidation.

It occurs to me that what's really hampering the flourishing of a national bar franchise is the fact that state liquor laws are so byzantine and varied. In parts of Virginia, for example, some establishments have to stop selling booze at whatever point in the evening that booze begins to account for more than 50% of sales (vs. food). In New York, you can't be open before noon on Sunday (is that still a law? was when I was growing up...). Here in Washington State, all bars that serve liquour must have a full food menu vetted by the State Liquour Board, and those that only sell beer & wine can't have anyone under 21 on the premises.

The big selling poing of a franchise is that you know exactly what you're going to get. The experience is universal, from the food to the napkins to the bathroom decor. A national bar franchise would have a hard time providing such a consistent experience when it had to deal with liquor laws that vary so much from state to state.

I know Scott had this thought while he was sick, and I don't mean to beat a dead horse, but it was a very intriguing thought, one that deserved a full discussion.
Check out A Drive Through the Bronx for, among other things, pictures of the Whitestone Bridge without the stiffening trusses, which were removed in the summer. The bridge now looks rather elegant -- maybe one of the more elegant ones in the city -- smooth curves and handsome romanesque touches at the top of the stanchions (I don't know if they're actually called stanchions -- I think a stanchion refers to something else).

For our friends out in the Seattle area, the reason they put on the trusses in the first place was because of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge disaster in the 1960s. Nycroads.com has a nice explanation of what this was all about.
Are they out of town or just too effete to compete with the intellectual brawn over here at Deskjockeys? Frank needs to get off his DLC-forgiving, Bush-sniping, Apple Computer-apologizing ass and get back to doing some real work. Real work blogging, that is. And soon.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Airtrain's debut means that the free shuttle bus from the Howard Beach subway station has been eliminated. Since Airtrain is $5 from the subways (either in Jamaica or at Howard Beach), is there a way to get to the airport for free (i.e., with an unlimited Metrocard)?

Yes, although it will take as long, or longer, than before.
One huge pet peeve of mine is people who argue in favor of drug decriminalization. Legalize it? Fine. Just understand that decriminalization is a selfish way for countries to clean up their own neighborhoods at the expense of the third world.

Many scoffed at the government's anti-drug ads that linked recreational drug use to terrorism, but I thought they were spot on -- taking personal responsibility is maybe the only viable way to combat the drug trade. In that vein (heh), I'd like to point out a report today about a boat seized in the Persian Gulf with both hash and Al Qaeda suspects.

It would be nice if recreational users spent five seconds pondering where the drugs they use come from . . .

(NB: I think I'm done with overtly political things for this week . . . next week we'll get back on track with a bunch of pictures of bridges . . . thanks for your patience.)
This week marked the debut of Jonathan Chait's Diary of a Dean-o-Phobe anti-Dean blog, which just rocks: "It's not entirely clear to me why I've taken such an intense dislike to Howard Dean. Yes, I find him arrogant and frequently dishonest. Yes, I'm certain his nomination would lead to a political disaster of historic, and possibly biblical, proportions. And, yes, I'm continuously dumbfounded that a number of highly intelligent people I know have convinced themselves that his nomination is a good thing, or at least that it's not an unambiguously bad thing. But somehow the whole of my loathing for Dean is greater than the sum of its parts. So I've decided to start a blog on [The New Republic's] website to indulge that loathing."

Today's post features my favorite moment: Dean's Nathan Thurm-like exchange with George Stephanopoulos about his alleged support of NAFTA.
The final portion of Boston's $14.6 billion Big Dig and the $1.9 billion Airtrain to JFK both opened.
The Associated Press features a story about how Arabs are feeling "humiliated" by Saddam's capture and the subsequent video of a military doctor checking him for lice and cavities (or getting DNA swabs and ensuring he wasn't hiding any cyanide pills).

Best nugget: "In a telephone poll, the popular Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera asked viewers if showing Saddam being probed by U.S. military doctors was meant to humiliate Arabs. Al-Jazeera said that of the 1,500 people who called in, 97 percent said it was."


Thursday, December 18, 2003

Make sure you take time to read today's Note (I'm not sure how they archive them) for more on Howard Dean. I'm not able to vote in any primary, but I have to say that there is something particularly loathsome about Dean as a candidate.

What makes it so unsettling is the way he transcends his subpar platform and contradictory positions by cashing in on those who are reflexively anti-war. If there's any justice, his candidacy will be shot down in the early stages.

If the furor over his campaign has been precipitated by Al Gore's opportunistic pre-emptive endorsement, then that's just more justice. I even have more respect for Dennis Kucinich, who is a real kook, but at least a kook who stands on his record.

And any talk about a "Dean Smear" is just preposterous -- everything he's supposedly being "smeared" over is his own making, from the ill-advised remarks about Saddam's capture not making the U.S. "safer" to the paranoia baiting of questioning the administration's supposed prior knowledge of 9/11 to his sloppy remarks about "evenhandedness" in dealing with Israel.

Like I said, reading the Washington Post stories the Note links to really underscores just how loathsome he is.
Jen and I watched Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks (1996) the other night. In the DVD notes, it mentioned that Burton got the idea for the movie from some 1960s anti-Communist trading cards. The premise of the movie is clear enough when you watch it, and I was struck by a couple of things.

The caricatures are obviously over the top, but the salient ones were the mealy-mouthed appeasers who, even after seeing that the Martians were up to no good, kept advocating an untenable diplomatic tack. One of the best scenes comes when the French Prime Minister calls the President (Jack Nicholson) to say that the Martians want to call a truce, and before Jack Nicholson can warn him, the Martians blew up the room with their fancy ray guns.

What struck me was that even though the post-Cold War Mars Attacks was hamming it up by deconstructing Cold War-era archetypes (e.g., the Dr. Strangelove-like General Decker), I kept wanting Jack Nicholson to obliterate the Martians (this despite how cute and funny they were).

The entire time I was aware I was watching it in this post-9/11 mode, and, honestly, it made me feel a lot less contemptuous of Cold War-era America. That generation acted as they felt appropriate in the face of a real or perceived threat to civilization. And more and more I’m leaning towards omitting the condescending “real or perceived” modifier.

I know Frank was upset about Dennis Miller’s apparent conversion, but I have to say I totally agree with Miller when he says stuff like this: “I'm left on a lot of things. If two gay guys want to get married, I could care less. If a nut case from overseas wants to blow up their wedding, that's when I'm right.”

The film is worth a second look, by the way -- and it has a great cast . . .

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Yes, Frank, but those places all serve food primarily. I want a full-on bar franchise -- the Starbucks of alcohol.

Jen told me this morning that Fado's, the bar that Michelle mentioned, is actually owned by Guinness. Which brought me to my next thought: aren't there bars in Europe owned by alcohol makers? I thought this was true -- I seem to recall this in both France and England.

Jen added that Starbucks in many ways created a market for high-end espresso coffee drinks (in some places in the U.S.). I thought of McDonald's, too, in the way (again, I'm working on memory here) that they popularized and standardized the genre of fast food. Perhaps the reason there isn't a bar chain is that there is already a market for alcohol (as opposed to Starbucks) and the drinks tend not to be distinctive (as opposed to McDonald's -- a Budweiser beer is a Budweiser beer whether you're at a dive bar or an upscale lounge).

Jen also mentioned a couple of bar chains, including Champs Sports Bar (is this actually a chain? I need to find the corporate site). But again, there's the food thing -- I mean a place that is primarily alcohol . . .

People patronize chains because they are assured of quality control -- it's striking that Starbucks coffee tastes the same in Seattle as it does in the Tampa Airport. This is less of an issue when you're guzzling beer. Mixed drinks, on the other hand, are a little more nuanced, which brings me to Fat Tuesday.

Fat Tuesday (and its cousin New Orleans Original Daiquiris), the chain specializing in frozen alcoholic drinks, I think comes closest to what I'm talking about. (Yes, they serve food, but their drinks are the main draw.) And as their store locations page says, "amazingly you'll find whether you're drinking a Mudslide in Philadelphia, Destin, Austin or New Orleans, they'll all have the same great tasting drinks." That's the chain mentality in effect for sure.

In short, Fat Tuesday comes closer to what I'm getting at, but what about Starbucks- or McDonald's-style world domination? Why else is this not possible?

Finally, I would like to say that I like Applebee's, of which there are nine in New York City. The Times Square version features 99-cent drafts of cheap shit beer during happy hour. That rocks . . .
But what will they do with them once they're there?

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Scott, chain bars are everywhere in America: Applebees, TGI Fridays, & Bennigans are good examples. Especially in the mall-drenched exurbs and suburban sprawl areas that constitute an increasing proportion of the American demographic.

If you've ever spent time at the edges of suburban sprawl, as I did over Thanksgiving, you'll notice that there's nothing out there but housing developments and strip malls. No one's building proper downtowns with neighborhood bars... It's all strip malls. And no mall is complete with out a Ruby Tuesdays or an Applebees in the parking lot.

If you live in a major city, than may seem absurd. But head out to some newly minted suburb 1/2 hour out of town (preferably one that's named something like "Silver Firs" or "Twin Streams", after whatever part of nature was bulldozed to build it) and try and get a drink at 11pm on a Friday night. I guarantee you end up at either TGI Fridays or the Dennys cocktail lounge (if you're lucky).
Thanks to Michelle for pointing out this bar franchise, which she describes as a "particularly annoying meathead-heavy" establishment.

This is a start, but I want Wal-Mart-style world dominance! Maybe it should look even like a McDonald's!
This is all over the internet today, but David Brooks' column this morning was dead on:

"In the world Dean describes, people, other than a few bizarre terrorists, would be working together if not for Bush. In the Dean worldview, all problems are matters of technique and negotiation.

"Dean tried yesterday to show how sober and serious he could be. In fact, he has never appeared so much the dreamer, so clueless about the intellectual and cultural divides that really do confront us and with which real presidents have to grapple."

Monday, December 15, 2003

Let's be clear about one thing: the federal government is not involved in education, which is to say that education, as a presidential issue, is a ridiculous red herring. There is, however, one thing that the federal government can do to help local districts throughout the country: uphold the federal government's legislated responsibility to fund local district's special education costs at 40%. Currently Congress reimburses districts for about 17% of special education costs; no one has held the federal government responsible for funding what it is supposed to.

This issue most affects rural school districts on smaller budgets. One special education student can cost a district hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, which obviously diverts funds from other things (most likely Maintenance and Operations funds -- school books, repairs, etc.). Dean is from Vermont, which has many of these rural districts; this has been on of Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords' pet issues for a long time now.

Fully funding the federal government's commitment to help local school districts with special education costs would put more money back into education without creating silly federal programs or nationwide schemes. The only problem is that it is a gamble -- there is no method for holding local districts accountable, so it's not a slam dunk proposition that things would get better. But it's a good start for sure.

Dean's K-12 Education issues page features this campaign promise:

"I will be the first President to fulfill the federal government’s promise to fully fund special education. This commitment was made more than 25 years ago, and its past time to fulfill it and improve education for all students."

Of course, I'm not sure how the Office of the President can make Congress fund what they're supposed to fund, but as campaign pledges go, it's a worthy one -- one of the few in an education platform that is rich on pie-in-the-sky new government programs but soft on substantive ideas.
Howard Dean gave his eagerly anticipated foreign policy speech today. Yawn.

"America is squandering an opportunity to lead" . . . "the capture of Saddam has not made America safer" . . . more international cooperation . . . more money for the military . . . better intelligence . . .

Yawn! Basically it's saying what Bush has been saying except that it's a little warmer and fuzzier.

Al Gore apparently "helped" Dean on the speech. And this makes him worthy of props like "[a]nd our effort will build on the extraordinary work and leadership, as Senator and as Vice President, of one of America's great leaders, Al Gore"?

From his flubs to his mushy so-called liberalism, Dean is proving pretty talentless . . . the Republicans should be sharpening their knives for next November.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Frank Schubert, the keeper of the Coney Island Lighthouse, has died. He was the last civilian lighthouse keeper in the United States.

Here's a view from the lighthouse with the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the background. Newsday has his obituary posted online as of about 20 minutes ago.
While I was out -- whether it was the flu, I don't know, but it's been going around -- I wondered, in the middle of the night while I lay awake, why there aren't more bar franchises in the U.S. You know, some establishment like the McDonald's or Starbucks of alcohol. Is this just not possible? Shouldn't it be an easy way to make money and undercut independent neighborhood bars? What would it look like? Has this ever been tried? There are more questions than answers here.
A couple of choice quotes in this Boston Globe piece. Highlights below . . .

"'I've talked with a friend of mine who was in Paris the other day who was meeting with President Chirac at length, exploring some ideas, and the clear conclusion was that there is a place where the president is prepared to be involved and even perhaps put troops on the ground,'" Kerry said. Pressed, Kerry refused to identify the friend who spoke with Chirac, or offer further details. 'I don't want to drag the president of France into this presidential race.'" [He could have gotten the French to contribute -- of course!]

"Kerry also added, 'If any person in this table believes we would be at war today in Iraq if I were president, you shouldn't support me,' saying he had urged Bush before the war to build a coalition for military action in Iraq and not 'rush' into battle. A few minutes later Kerry clarified his remark, saying that 'there wouldn't have been a war in Iraq the way we went to war. If I had gone to war, it would have been making real the promises of this president,' such as exhausting diplomatic options and building support among Americans and an international coalition." [So we'd be at war . . . just not "in the way" we went to war!]

"Kerry also attacked Dean's support of rolling back the tax cuts supported by the Bush administration, arguing that the effect would be increasing taxes on many middle-class voters. 'It means the Democratic Party is going to be out there saying to America, here we come again -- get married in America, we're going to tax you, because we're reinstating the marriage penalty,' Kerry said." [Way to stay on message -- the Republican one!]
Bruno and the Mad Professor deserve a hit or two on Google. So does their blog.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Jen and I got a chance to see Tim Burton's new movie Big Fish last month at the American Museum of the Moving Image. Forget the about the overrated Mystic River (and the incredibly overrated Lost in Translation), this is the real deal. And it looks like people are starting to feel the Oscar buzz that should rightfully surround the film. It's got Tim Burton's typical loopy touches, but the difference is that this time the script supports his trademark bizarre style.
A picture of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge during construction in the early 1960s, courtesy bayridge.com.
After some embarrassing national exposure about its anti-Elvis cab driver dress code, Seattle's City Council votes to allow drivers to wear costumes depicting a "readily identifiable and generally well-known public figure, personality or fictional character."

Monday, December 08, 2003

Searching for Dean's platform, I came across this strange statement of support for chiropractic care. In fact, Dean is just one of four Democratic candidates who publicly support chiropractic care. What de fuck?
I first read about Trans-Dniester in a story about sketchy arms dealer Victor Bout in an August 2003 profile in the New York Times Magazine (archived already, so don't bother with the link). One of the article's salient points is that the breakaway region of Moldova is a lawless purgatory for the former Soviet Union's vast arsenal of arms.

Now there's news that several dozen dirty bomb warheads have gone missing from an arms depot in the region.

More about Moldova here.
Not to be snarky about 9/11, but this is a funny picture of Bill Clinton doing what he does best.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Alcohol is good for you. Alcohol is bad for you. Who can tell anymore? "Just a few alcoholic drinks a week may be enough to shrink the brain, according to US research."

"Even a little tipple shrinks your brain."
Kevin Smith on starring in Panasonic commercials: "I fucking grew up watching TV and commercials."

Kevin Smith on the Paris Hilton tape: "I watched it actively."

Kevin Smith on bouts of self-doubt: "Periodically, you get into these zones where you’re just like, 'I'm no damn good. What am I doing? I'm a fucking fraud.' And shit like that."

Kevin Smith: "I'm a sellout!"

Thursday, December 04, 2003

I lived in Belfast for eight glorious months in 2000 and I keep up on news there. Today I surveyed the faltering Northern Ireland peace process. The results:

Hits on Google for "Tiocfaidh ár lá" (motto of the IRA, in Irish "Our day will come")= 6,170

Hits on Google for "Tiocfaidh Armani" (motto of the new Catholic bourgeoisie, in Irish "Armani will come")= 144

Peace is coming, and it will be sleek, black, and wildly overpriced.
The National Board of Review has released its list of the ten best movies of the year and Clint Eastwood's Mystic River is number one. I can't believe this movie will win top prize in the Oscars (what is with that stupid-ass convoluted ending?), but my prediction of predictions (which never turn out to be true) is that the Academy will pull a Nobel Peace Prize Committee and award Sean Penn best actor for his vital work in reaching out to the former Iraqi regime in the months leading up to the war. How about it?

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

The new train to JFK is starting up on December 17. It will save time, I'm hoping, although the brochure says that a ride from Penn Station to the airport will still take an hour (it's less if you use the LIRR commuter rail, but that costs much more than a subway ride). Anything not to have to ride that crappy-ass shuttle bus ever again. But understand that eliminating that free crappy-ass shuttle bus from the Howard Beach station means you now have to spend $5 to take the Airtrain. Is it possible that it's cheaper to take a cab? Grrr . . .

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